Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The Cunning Little Vixen @ Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes

20 May 2012


Glyndebourne (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

Not content with being “The Mozart House” and “The Handel House,” Glyndebourne has now established itself as “The Janáček house” with this visually beautiful, psychologically searching, fabulously sung and superbly played production of the story of the wily little vixen, for whom the composer felt such affection that he wrote of her as “My very own Bystrouška” and wondered “…where did you take your lament from… where have you seen yourself before?”

If you shed a tear when Giselle Allen forgave Laca in the GTO Jenůfa or had a lump in your throat when Nancy Gustafson’s Glyndebourne Katya sang of her ecstasy at going to church alone, you’ll revel in Lucy Crowe’s Vixen, whose lament wrings every ounce of available emotion from the music without remotely sentimentalizing it; this is a definitive performance, at the level of that of the unforgettable Helen Field, and there is no higher praise. I’ve previously written that the challenges presented by this role are akin to having to sing Jenůfa and Zerbinetta in the same opera, and Lucy Crowe met them all with tremendous confidence.

She was supported by an outstanding ensemble cast, from Sergei Leiferkus’ warmly characterized Forester, Adrian Thompson’s world-weary schoolmaster and Emma Bell’s seductively beguiling Fox, to Lucie Špičková’s flea-bitten yet lovable Dog and Mae Heydorn’s insistent Woodpecker – there were no weaknesses here, and the children were only occasionally cringe-worthy, which is an achievement in itself. Jeremy Bines held the chorus work together with seamless skill.

Vladimir Jurowski led the LPO in a rapturous account of the score, giving point to all the skittishness in the music yet keeping the focus firmly on its poetic sensibility; if you want to hear why I love this composer so much, just listen to how this orchestra plays him under this conductor – it’s Strauss without the stupid bits, and Wagner without the interminable histories.

Melly Still’s production is brilliant; Tom Pye’s sets, Dinah Collin’s costumes, Maxine Doyle’s choreography and, most of all, Paule Constable’s surpassingly beautiful lighting work together to create the forest in all its moods, contrasted with the human world with all its frustrations. The central image of the great tree, a bit like the Windsor Oak, evokes the passing of life with the seasons, from the blossom of Spring to the melancholy falling leaves of Autumn, and the backdrop of vernal / snow-covered fields, the curiously vertiginous fox lair and the sparkling sky are all not only visually striking but dramatically apt – and of course the fox tails are a brilliant touch, but you’ll have to go to Glyndebourne to see what all that means.

There are 12 more performances, ending on June 28th, with a few tickets left, and on Sunday June 10th at 18.30, you can see it streamed live online, on the Guardian and Glyndebourne websites, and at over 60 cinemas across the UK.

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